ODOT releases environmental report for I-5 Rose Quarter project, opponents disagree

I-5 through the Rose Quarter - KATU image.jpg

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) says expanding parts of I-5 through the Rose Quarter will make the freeway safer, less congested, and will improve air quality.

Those opposed to the project say that's not true.

The project has been in the works for several years. ODOT released the report Friday. You can read more, and leave your comments at i5rosequarter.org

ODOT wants to add auxiliary lanes and shoulders on I-5 between I-405 and I-84. The lanes would extend from on-ramp to off-ramp. ODOT says that can help reduce traffic and congestion by making it easier for drivers to enter and exit the freeways. They say no more through-lanes would be added.

"We've put in auxiliary lanes in a lot of places around the Portland area," said Don Hamilton, a spokesperson for ODOT. "We've found it very effective as a way to reduce congestion, reducing the amount of crashes."

Hamilton says auxiliary lanes have reduced traffic on I-5 near Wilsonville. He says there was about five hours of congestion there before adding the lanes, not there is about one. Hamilton says the Rose Quarter project would reduce the number of crashes in through the area too.

"That is a unicorn of a freeway expansion. That is not what freeways do, ever," said Aaron Brown from No More Freeways PDX.

Brown is opposed to freeway expansion and disagrees with ODOT's findings. He says more drivers will use the freeway once it's widened and we'll have the same problems once again.

"When you build an ice cream shop a block from my house, I'm going to have an induced demand and eat a lot more ice cream. The easier you make it to do something, the more money you subsidize to have ice cream shops on my block, the more likely people are going to eat ice cream," said Brown.

Hamilton says ignoring the freeway will only make things worse.

"Portland is going to grow. Portland is going to get much busier and congested if we build this project or not," he said. "This will help ease some of the growth we're going to be seeing in the years ahead."

ODOT found that air quality would improve and greenhouse gas emissions would go down by 2045. According to an ODOT statement, "The estimated reduction in emissions caused by the project would likely be due to the higher speeds and less idling on the highway and reduced congestion from the project."

Still, ODOT found that air quality would improve even if they did not move forward with the project. Improvements in air quality would be nearly the same whether they improved I-5 or not. ODOT found that most of the improvement in air quality came from better car technology.

Harriet Tubman Middle School is already dealing with the current air quality issues near I-5. The newly opened middle school sits just a stones-throw from the freeway. Researchers from Portland State University found that freeway traffic was responsible for bad air quality there.

Last year, Portland Public Schools built a large HVAC system on the roof of the school to clean the air. Recent tests show air quality inside is good.

Brown is worried the freeway project would be bad for students at the middle school.

"How on earth could you possibly come up with a freeway widening in the backyard of a middle school?" he said.

A PPS spokesperson told KATU News they are closely monitoring the I-5 project and are working with ODOT. The district does not have an official position on the project yet.

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